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What aspects of Type 2 diabetes might lead to dementia?

Project summary

Having type 2 diabetes increases the risk of dementia, but we don’t know why. Dr Eszter Vamos and her team want to find out which diabetes-related factors are involved in the development of dementia, like blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. This will help us to find new ways to protect people with type 2 diabetes from dementia.

Background to research

People with type 2 diabetes are more likely to develop dementia in later life than people without diabetes. At the moment, we don’t fully understand why, or what the link between these two conditions is.

Having type 2 diabetes can damage blood vessels, and previous research has linked conditions that affect our blood vessels with brain health. It is thought that type 2 diabetes could damage brain cells too, helping dementia to develop. But type 2 diabetes is complex. There are some factors involved type 2 diabetes that we can’t control, like our age and ethnicity, and other factors that we can control, like blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Unpicking exactly which aspects of type 2 diabetes could cause damage to brain cells hasn’t been studied in detail yet. Dr Eszter Vamos and her team want to investigate various type 2 diabetes-related factors to see if they play a role in the risk of developing dementia, to help us find ways to prevent it.

Research aims

Dr Vamos will use the UK Clinical Practice Research Datalink – a large database of clinical information about certain people, collected since the 1980s. They’ll analyse information from people with type 2 diabetes who are 45 years or older, spanning a 20 year period. This is because changes that cause dementia begin a long time before any signs of the condition, and different risk factors may be important at different times.

The researchers will study specific diabetes-related factors that we already know play a part in damaging blood vessels, to see whether they could also be linked to brain cell damage. They will look at blood glucose levels, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and obesity.

They’ll compare these factors between people with type 2 diabetes who go on to develop dementia and those who don’t develop dementia. They’ll also see whether the factors we can’t control, like our age and ethnicity, could work alongside the factors we can modify, to influence the development of dementia.

Finally, they want to see if diabetes-related complications such as eye and kidney disease, or damaged nerves could be linked, as well as common diabetes medications.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

Currently there are no treatments that cure dementia or stop its symptoms from getting worse. People with type 2 diabetes are at a higher risk of dementia, so finding out which diabetes-related factors play a key role in the development of dementia can help us find new ways to delay or prevent it in the future.

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